The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, also today expressed its grave concern about the fate of the highly respected BBC journalist Alan Johnston, who is believed to have been abducted in Gaza on 12 March 2007.
Johnston has been the BBC correspondent in Gaza for three years – the only western broadcast journalist both living and working there.
Last week WAFA, the Palestinian News Agency, reported Amnesty International renewed its call for the immediate release of Johnston.
Amnesty International said that Johnston's kidnapping and disappearance was the latest in a series of abductions and other acts of lawlessness, especially in the Gaza Strip, which stem from a long-standing problem of impunity and the failure of the PA government to ensure the rule of law.
The Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat reported:
Alan Johnston was among the few foreign reporters who remained in the Gaza Strip after a series of kidnappings that had affected his colleagues more than once. All these cases of hostage-taking ended peacefully but have left fear and concern in the hearts and minds of journalists that prompted some of them to leave whilst others would only travel escorted by security teams or with local reporters and in safe locations.
One reporter who spoke to Asharq Al Awsat on condition of anonymity stated that it is easier to obtain information about the Israeli prisoner Gilad Shalit who was also kidnapped than about the BBC correspondent, Alan Johnston. He believes that Johnston may have been kidnapped by the Army of Islam group led by Mutaz Daghmash, who cannot be contacted and with whom the entire authority cannot use force because he simply does not belong to a political faction and relies on more than 13,000 armed members of his family that completely dominates an area.
Abu Mujahid, the spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC),says that the PRC had been in contact with the Army of Islam on a number of occasions and the presumed parties, all of which denied that they were holding the hostage. He confirmed that at this point the responsible party and its demands are unknown. Meanwhile, he revealed that the PRC on each occasion informed the authority of the identity of the kidnappers, without the authority taking measures against them, which is tantamount to giving them permission to carry out such acts again, according to Naim Altobasi, the Chairman of the Palestinian Press Syndicate.
The report below is from the Mann News Agency. Ma'an News Agency (Ma'an means 'together' in Arabic) is a Palestinian on-line News agency that publishes up-to-the-minute news in Arabic, English, and Hebrew. Ma'an News Agency (MNA) began operation in December of 2004 and is one of the main projects of the Ma'an Network which was established in 2002 as a non-governmental organization that aims to improve local Palestinian media production.
Ma'an Network (Ma'an) is composed of nine independent TV stations and production studios located in each major city of the West Bank and Gaza. Ma'an is dedicated to promoting understanding of the Palestinian situation by strengthening cooperation between local and international media. The network shares a vision of fomenting democracy and freedom of thought and ideas in Palestine. It uses both technical and academic expertise in achieving these goals as strives towards sustainable development and human rights for the Palestinian people.
As Johnston's health deteriorates, journalists boycott government activities; Israeli media blames local photographers
Date: 02 / 04 / 2007 Time: 14:54
Ramallah - Ma'an - Dozens of Palestinian journalists participated in a sit-in demonstration, which was organized by the journalists' union in the centre of Ramallah on Monday to protest against the abduction of BBC reporter Alan Johnston.
Alan Johnston was abducted in Gaza three weeks ago.
Union head Na'im Toubasi revealed that the health of Johnston is deteriorating and that there are expectations that the kidnappers want a ransom in order to release him. Toubasi declared that the union will escalate protests if Johnston is not released.
Media institutions arranged the strike in Ramallah and announced that they will boycott the presidency and the government for three days, beginning Monday.
Al Jazeera correspondent Walid al Omari criticized the security bodies, saying that they are not paying enough attention to the attacks and assaults on journalistic establishments.
He called on the government and the presidency to take comprehensive measures in dealing with the case of the reporter and punish all those that attack media establishments or the employees of these establishments.
The strike had an increased presence of official media people, despite the decision to boycott official departments and officials.
Israeli media sources have claimed that Johnston is being held by the Dughmush clan in the Gaza Strip, with the cooperation of local Gaza photographers.
In the Friday edition of the Israeli daily 'Maariv', it was alleged that "a spontaneous amalgamation of local Gaza photographers" are behind the kidnapping of foreign photo-journalists. The presence of foreign journalists threatens the local journalists' livelihoods as freelance work is taken away from them and carried out by foreign, highly-paid, correspondents.
However, Maariv adds that Johnston appears to have the support of the majority of the local Palestinian journalists. Fran Unsworth, the head of BBC news-gathering, told Maariv that local journalists "are helping very much to secure his release." Abd Al-Askar, who, according to Maariv, represents several foreign media organizations in Gaza, said, "Johnston is a friend of the Palestinian journalists."
Unsworth would not confirm that Johnston was being held by the Dughmush family.
Maariv claimed that the Dughmush family is the main beneficiary from these kidnapping operations, alleging that they receive up to US $2 million in ransom money for the release of a foreign journalist. Maariv alleges that the American news network, Fox News, paid out this amount to secure the release of US correspondent Steve Centanni and New Zealander photographer Olaf Wiig last summer.
The Israeli newspaper also affirms that the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, is being held captive by the Dughmush family.
Maariv reported that, in the Johnston case, the British overseas intelligence agency, MI5, is involved, along with security personnel and even workers from the UN agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, which has a large presence in the Gaza Strip. The negotiations are being conducted in secrecy.
One of the major fears resulting from these kidnappings is that foreign journalists will no longer be based in Gaza. Alan Johnston, one of very few foreign journalists permanently residing in the Gaza Strip, was due to leave the Gaza at the start of April. It is unknown whether a new permanent Gaza correspondent will be sent to replace him.
"We must think about returning a correspondent to the field," Unsworth told Maariv. "We have to bring the story to our public but we have yet to decide how to act."
At least for the time being, however, foreign journalists are not at risk of being killed. "The positive aspect of the abductions is that there is no ideological base like there is in Iraq," an Israeli photographer told Maariv. "In Gaza, it's all a matter of money, except for the Razuri [a Peruvian photographer working for AFP who was kidnapped in January] incident. Razuri is a vegetarian and when his abductors brought him meat, he refused to eat it and they saw to it that he had vegetarian food. They have no intention of harming the abductees because in the end, they want the money and maybe to instill a little fear."